Before this summer, Michele Kaufman ’13 had never planted or picked a vegetable.
But she did have a germinating theoretical interest in farming. “I’ve been interested in local and sustainable agriculture for a few years,” the sociology and environmental studies major said. “On the sociology side, I’m interested in social justice and relating that to food equity.”
While she had studied these issues in some Bowdoin classes (such as “Global Justice,” taught last spring by Visiting Philosophy and Environmental Studies Professor Megs Gendreau), Kaufman said she wanted to augment her knowledge with hands-on experience.
To get that, Kaufman has had a farming internship this summer with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a nonprofit that preserves land and farms on the state’s coastlines and islands. The rising senior was hired to oversee a crew of teenagers on Erickson Fields Preserve, one of the organization’s tracts in Rockport. Kaufman has a grant from Bowdoin’s Psi Upsilon Environmental Fellowship program to support her internship.
With her team of four full-time and three part-time high school students, Kaufman is growing vegetables on half an acre of the 93-acre preserve. This is the third year the trust has hired a “teen ag crew” to farm the land it received five years ago.
The vegetables Kaufman and her crew harvest are sold at reduced price to local food pantries and to lunch programs at local elementary, middle and high schools.
Besides the satisfaction of giving food to the needy, Kaufman said one of the best parts of the internship has been learning how to run a farm. She’s also enjoyed seeing her teen crew transform over the summer. “Another big one has been watching the teens come in and go from knowing nothing to being able to run the farm and do everything they need to do to get the food ready,” she said.
The teenagers, who this year range in age from 14 to 16, were hired from a pool of 30 or so applicants. “For a lot of them it’s their first real job,” Kaufman said. “They get to be active all day, doing meaningful work.” By the end of the season, she expects they will have delivered over 6,000 pounds of vegetables to the food pantries.
Kaufman said her summer experience has inspired her to do more with agriculture, both intellectually and physically, when she returns to Bowdoin. “I want to get more involved in the Bowdoin organic garden, and potentially do an independent project on the importance of sustainable agriculture in developing nations,” she said.